There’s a lot of downplaying going on.
The Sixer’s coach recently downplayed reports of Iverson coming back, a Palin aide downplayed the use of a private jet, and the Dallas Federal Reserve President just downplayed the threat of inflation.
If your not downplaying chances are you are intensifying. Unfortunately, the latter doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like the former, but I don’t mean to downplay intensifying.
Intensify and downplay were the two words communication theorist Hugh Rank chose to frame his persuasion schema in his paper circa 1976. His work, as even a cursory search will show you, was aimed at analyzing some pretty serious political communications.
Rank argued that persuasive communications techniques fall into one of two categories — intensify or downplay. A persuasive argument would intensify, or accentuate, positive characteristics while downplaying the less positive. By the same token, a persuasive argument might intensify negative characteristics, for example about the competition, or by downplaying the competition’s positives.
Rank then divided both intensify and downplay into three subparts. Intensify consists of repetition, association and composition, while downplay consists omission, diversion and confusion.
- Repetition is straight forward. Repetition is straight forward. Repetition is straight forward.
- Association, only slightly more complex, is identifying with something with which an audience has a (positive) preconceived notion. Obama’s presentation style for example, has often been compared with that of Reagan — the great communicator.
- COMPOSITION deals with the arrangement of messages in patterns of writing, design, imaging or the combination thereof. Rank uses examples like U$A and Nixxon — the later a derogatory reference to former President. In modern times, LOL might be a more fitting example, IMHO.
- Omission too is straight-forward, but rather than repeat it, I’d rather leave that part out.
- Diversion is also simple; it the concept of introducing another concept, as in answering the question you wish you were asked. Sometimes crisis communications experts call this a “bridge.”
- Confusion is providing answers so convoluted, no one understands what you are saying. In other words, it’s the quotes that make no sense that have the most meaning.
Rank’s theory stands the test of time. If you want to read Rank’s full text, you’ll have to visit a library or some dark corner of the academic web to find a copy; the citation is at the end.
As for Iverson, he reportedly responded with a slam-dunk, the private jet, citing executive privilege, refused comment, and inflation was allegedly amazed to learn that dollars were still being printed.
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Rank, H. (1976). Teaching about public persuasion. In D. Dietrich (Ed.), Teaching and Doublespeak. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
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